Thursday 28 April 2022

The Homecoming


Curve, Leicester

27th April 2022

I decided she was

I could be wrong but I think this is the first time Pinter’s Tony award winning The Homecoming (1965) has been professionally performed in Leicester since a production at the Haymarket in 1996. It seems odd to me that, outside of London, Pinter revivals are few and far between. It’s pleasing to see, then, that Theatre Royal Bath has revived the play for a UK tour. Jamie Glover’s production, starring Keith Allen and Mathew Horne, nicely balances the surface realism with an underlying sense of threat.

We get a sense that the usual trappings of a domestic drama are being skewed from the off. Liz Ashcroft’s design is a 1960s house in the East End: period wallpaper, a staircase, a living room, a window. On its own, it could be the setting for the sort of family drama that Pinter started his career acting in. But Ashcroft subtly subverts this. The walls loom into the rafters as if dwarfing the characters below and even the large staircase creates a sense of unease with the landing light casting shadows behind it. We meet Max, the cantankerous, misogynistic patriarch of the family, pitched perfectly in Keith Allen’s performance, the third time he’s been in this play. His language is coarse, he boasts about his son Joey’s sexual scruples, and he antagonises his chauffeur brother (who I saw Allen play in Jamie Lloyd’s production in 2015). What’s interesting is that some plays have pseudo families made of strangers taking on familial roles. Here, we have a real family where the roles and relationships are distorted. When Max’s other son Teddy returns from a long break working in America with his wife Ruth, the turf war escalates.

Mathew Horne excels as Lenny. Underneath the banal language, he’s poised with an ambiguous danger which makes him unpredictable. This is most explicit in the scene where he first meets Ruth. But somehow, despite Lenny’s intimidating language and running rings around his prey, his new-found sister-in-law holds her own. Played with careful stillness by Shanaya Rafaat, the power play culminates in a battle over a glass of water which she wins. In the second act, Teddy watches on powerless as Ruth is kissed by his brothers. By the end, Teddy returns to America while Ruth stays with his family and has agreed for them to pimp her out. But, ultimately, who is in control here?

Glover’s production is certainly less stylised than Lloyd’s 60th anniversary revival. However, I questioned whether that stripped back production swamped some of the play’s subtleties. Here, the menace is subtler and I think Glover (himself an actor) gives the cast space to let the text come first. I felt we were really given a chance to enjoy Pinter’s language, its comedic contradictions and dark subtext. I personally prefer some of Pinter’s later plays, but this is a fine example of an early work which draws on the naturalistic tradition but to unleash what Michael Billington called a ‘startling territorial takeover’

The Homecoming plays at Curve, Leicester until 30th April and then tours until 21st May.

Sam Alexander, Keith Allen and Mathew Horne in The Homecoming
Credit: Manuel Harlan

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